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Community National To Close Two Bank Branches In Caledonia County

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Charlotte Albright
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VPR
The downtown branch of Community Bank in Lyndonville has been a landmark for over a century and will close on July 17, 2015. The company says it needs to consolidate, but some customers fear it will diminish their town center.

Community National Bank is planning to shutter two branches in Caledonia County – one in Lyndonville and another in St. Johnsbury. Both branches that will close are located in retail districts. The company says it needs to consolidate, but some customers are unhappy.

Audio from this story will be posted at approximately 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 30.

Right next to the post office, Community National Bank has been a Lyndonville landmark for over a century. Cars frequently drive in and back out of tight parking spaces, and there’s usually foot traffic on the block. Lynn Witter owns Village Kids Boutique only a few steps away from the bank. When she heard that her branch was closing and she would have to drive a half mile south on Route 5 to make deposits and withdrawals, Witter was upset — not just for herself, but for the whole village.

“The bank was an anchor. People come to town to go to the bank, and we’re going to lose that. And there aren’t many big draws down here, and it’s really sad. So they leave, and then someone else is going to have to leave and it’s all going to be boarded up just like many towns I’ve seen in Vermont,” Witter said.

She wonders if the bank really will save money by consolidating branches. Witter says some merchants, including her, may now choose a different bank altogether. CNB owns the building it’s vacating, and Witter predicts it won’t be easy to sell. When the video rental store across the street shut down, its building remained vacant for over two years.

"There aren't many big draws down here, and it's really sad. So [the bank] leaves, and then someone else is going to have to leave and it's all going to be boarded up just like many towns I've seen in Vermont." - Lynn Witter, Village Kids Boutique owner

Kathy Austin, chief operating officer for Community National Bank, says closing a downtown bank is not an easy decision, because as its name implies, her company cares about the communities it serves.

“And we do understand it leaves a hole on ... what we consider the main street, in the town of Lyndonville," said Austin. "But you know, we did have to make the decision that we thought was best for our bank and for our customers."

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Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
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VPR
Village Kids Boutique is a toy and clothing store in Lyndonville near a branch of Community National Bank that will close in July. Store owner Lynn Witter says losing the bank will be a blow to downtown merchants.

Austin says Community National is now operating four branches within 10 miles. Detailed analysis of transactions shows the highest activity in the Lyndonville Route 5 branch with a drive-in window, and at Price Chopper near an Interstate 91 exit in St. Johnsbury. But the bigger trend is that fewer customers are banking at all with tellers these days, preferring internet transactions and ATMs.  

“Really where this starts is with the change in our customers’ habits,” Austin said.

The bank has sent letters to customers, but for many in Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury, the news is just trickling out. Lyndonville’s Zoning Administrator, Kaela Gray, heard about the decision from VPR. She says Lyndonville is trying to become more friendly to pedestrians and attractive to sustainable business. Closing a village bank with walk-in-trade, Gray worries, will be a setback to redevelopment efforts. So she hopes the building will find a buyer that also draws people downtown.

"We do understand it leaves a hole on ... what we consider the main street, in the town of Lyndonville. But you know, we did have to make the decision that we thought was best for our bank and for our customers." - Kathy Austin, Community National Bank chief operating officer

“Walkability is something that’s so important in a town, and without a business there to have people walk to, you are not going to be able to support more businesses and grow and strengthen the downtown," Gray says. "The cycle sort of feeds on itself. “

But she says she also understands a bank’s need to strengthen its own bottom line.

Four employees will lose their jobs when the doors close in downtown Lyndonville and at St. Johnsbury’s Federal Street branch on July 17. They have been asked by bank officials not to speak to the media. People with safety deposit boxes at those locations will need to make arrangements in person to re-locate them at the remaining branches at Price Chopper in St. Johnsbury and Memorial Drive in Lyndonville.  

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